Experiencing culture the unglamorous way – customer service stories

‘Tiene otro pasaporte?’ (Do you have another passport?)

I am standing at the Claro phone provider customer service booth staring at the customer service agent with a puzzled face. I’m here to purchase a new sim card in order to register it. What does that have to do with it?

Enough that it will take two hours and several ‘I’m sorry but I cannot register your phone’. Turns out the fact that my passport ‘number’ has letters in it makes the system refuse it. My suggestion 20 min into the talk to put zeros instead of the letters is not reacted upon. 2h later and several talks with the ‘boss’ where my agent would run back to every 5 minutes, that would then turn out to be the solution. At that time all I can do is sigh, my back starting to ache as I’m carrying all my luggage with me on my way out of town. 

This had been my third visit to customer service in offices all across Medellin. 

Purchasing a sim card can be so easy and yet such a hassle at the same time. Basically, I wasn’t able to register my phone with the sim card I had bought at a small store. What happens then is that eventually your phone gets blocked for the usage of local SIM cards in the country, an experience I had encountered before and didn’t want to repeat.

Anyway, nobody seemed to know the correct solution until the moment when I was about to leave the city and I was told I should return to the headquarters immediately as my phone was in danger of being blocked any day from now. This is how I ended up with my two backpacks standing at the service desk for two hours, delaying my trip for three….

‘Voy a venir manana’. (I will come tomorrow)

On the phone with the technician of the internet provider in Jardin telling me that he would show up the day after to finally fix my internet that’s been broken for days. Getting an appointment in the first place seemed to be like going on a treasure hunt, including wrong phone numbers, two hour lunch-breaks at the phone provider’s office right when I wanted to talk to them and eventually finding a person to make a phone call and to beat the customer service jungle (and your various ‘for X press 1, for Y press 2….) for me as I couldn’t deal with all the technical Spanish and questions about certain ‘numbers/information’ that was linked with 

The irony of the story is of course that after 2 promised appointments and me waiting in the house for 2 full days the technician shows up when I’m in town for a couple of hours….. so after another final ‘Voy a volver mañana’ (I’m coming back tomorrow) he’s finally standing at my doorsteps with a new router in his hands.

‘Ahorita’ (Now/Soon)

I’m sitting in a metal chair in a small windowless office. Across from me, a tech-guy working on many computers. Among those, mine. I bought it here, in the tech-mall in Medellin after my tablet pretty much called it a day. I had spent 2 days, visiting 12 shops to find a store that had something somewhat affordable for my meager backpacker’s budget. I just needed a gadget bigger than my phone to write on. Easier said than done, When I asked my tour guide in Medellin where to go to buy a laptop computer he asked me ‘Aren’t you going to any other country where you could buy one?’ I knew what he meant: Electronics are expensive in Colombia. Sadly I had no choice as I urgently needed a new gadget. So, electronics shopping in Spanish. I realized very quickly that this was going to be pushing me to my limits of the Spanish language. Stating my requirements in a store, I’d be rattled down a list of computer specifications in one breath, leaving me completely confused and overwhelmed. This hunt would give me a headache. After way too many long-winded conversations, I finally purchased the oldest and heaviest gadget I could find – which was just somewhat affordable. 

I had to return to the mall though, wanting to get the language changed as navigating everything in Spanish turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I had expected.

I was told to head to the technician’s office, the tiny cubicle on top of the shop. He gestured me to wait and started looking at the matter. He said he’d take care of it ‘ahorita’ – that should have been activating my alarm bells. Despite ‘ahora’ meaning now, I’d see its meaning as very flexible. It could mean anything between 5 min to several hours. So here I was, standing at the corner of the room for a good 20min as another customer occupied the only proper chair. People were squeezing past me. Not much was spoken. After asking for an update and just hearing it’s going to be finished ‘ahorita’, I gave up and kept quiet. Eventually, the other customer got his computer back and I was gestured to take a seat. 20 min turned into an hour. No update, nothing said. Finally, I stood up, saying I’d go for a coffee and wait elsewhere. That was welcomed (nothing mentioned about when I could expect this installation to be finished). Coming back about an hour later I was told the installation was ‘almost’ done. It already seemed a very long installation to me but what was I going to say? 10 min later, the employee then told me that it wasn’t successful and I’d have to pay to get a completely new language pack installed. Another hour to wait.

By that time, all I could do was give in. I had been at the shop for 2.5h. I left, walking around aimlessly, ending up in a supermarket with a coworking space where I killed time.

Finally 1.5h later I was able to pick up my computer. Sucess!! Or so I thought. I’m typing this post currently from my phone that I hooked up on an external keyboard as my computer refuses to do anything.  Another visit to the tech mall coming up……

It’s always a headache sorting these things out when you’re in your own country where you know the procedures a little and speak the language. Being abroad though adds a whole new layer to this.

I remember during high-school years how a friend of mine whose family had recently moved to Germany always had to take care of this kind of matters for her parents (she was 13 at the time). I didn’t understand why until now, realizing that she had to translate for her parents as she was the one with the best German at the time….

This is one of the not-so-fun points about being abroad but it leaves you motivated to learn the language better and you get a crash course in cultural understanding 😉

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